How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The great thing about jazz is that you may think you know a lot about a lot, but in reality you don't know jack. It seems every time I pop in a new record, I learn about a new artist I've never heard before. In listening to Mike Holober's Wish List, I was lucky enough to learn about three: Holober, Tim Ries, and Wolfgang Muthspiel.
Wish List is simple enough. It's a straight-ahead recording, with a track list consisting of seven Holober originals and two standards: "Blackbird and "Nancy. The quintet comprises Holober (piano), Muthspiel (guitar), Ries (sax), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). But, as Steve Armour so eloquently captures in the liner notes, these five musicians play so together that the recording possesses that quality that is present on the early Blue Note recordings. Considering these guys have names like Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock on their resumes, the fact that they check their respective egos at the door is no small achievement.
Muthspiel is the prize of the set. His playing is brilliant throughout. His warm, luscious tone combines elements of both Kurt Rosenwinkel and Wes Montgomery, but his style is unmistakably unique. Muthspiel really shines on "Tulainyo and "Bumphs. On the former, he adds a remarkably Frisellian solo, moving the tune choppily along towards its coda. On the latter, he beautifully evokes the mood of the soft ballad.
Patitucci and Blade are a revelation throughout. For the most part, Blade is content to stay in the background, holding down the beat and pretty much playing chameleon behind each soloist. Patitucci is given a fair amount of solo space, acquitting himself extremely well on "Conundrum.
Holober's piano playing is nothing special. His compositions are his contribution here. The melodies are intricate enough to provoke virtuosic playing from the rest of the players, but simple enough to be remembered.
Wish List is a strong recording which brings together some of the best musicians from the current generation for a group of simple improvisation vehicles. The music is consistently at a high level, with patches of brilliance. The album is great for avid jazz fans and for people who, like me, enjoy being introduced to new artists in the context of some familiar ones. But for most passive listeners, the recording is not essential.